Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Apples in Stereo -- New Magnetic Wonder

Apples in Stereo, were always a band I always wanted to like a lot more than I actually did. Coming out of the music collective Elephant 6Gorilla 6 is better a little more than 10 years ago, they were oft described as sunny, low-fi, beatle-eque pop with more than a hint of Zombie-fied power chords. But for me, the sunny adjetive was the only one that ever really fit well. The Apples were never as low-fi as their collegues (and shared members) in Neutral Milk Hotel, and while their arrangements and songs openly drew from the late '60's and early '70's, the Beatles comparison was probably a bit overstated. Add to that the band's virtual disappearance for 5 years and the Apples were likely to fail to be known as much more than a Powerpuff Girls footnote.

Since they've been gone, other bands like Death Cab for Cutie and it's sister the Postal Service have taken the quirky indie-pop consortium model the Elephant 6ers established to the big time. Not to mention that New Pornographers batch of Canadians do almost everything the Apples do and do it better.

Wry pop lyrics. check I ring twice bitches

Panel of shifting collaborators. check

Shinny inter-gender harmonies and switching lead vocalists. check

Love of mid career Beatles and late career Beach Boys. check and mate

In a way, all that somewhat negligible history and makes New Magnetic Wonder even more refreshing. It is a truly joyous album of well arranged and very listenable pop-rock. Frontman Robert Schnider's craft seems to be in full force and the result isn't just an album that sounds fun, it actually is. The arrangements are often layered, but they sound effortless and intuitive, where so much current music feels sculpted within an inch of it's hard drive.

If you are too jaded to find the fun in the doubled guitar and piano chords of "Can You Feel It?" with its classic FM command to "turn up your radio1", then you might as well hang up your little white ear buds.

The two numbers sung by recently departed drummer, Hilarie Sidney, "Sunndal Song" and "Sunday Sounds" could have been totally disconnected from the rest of the album in less capable hands, but they fit in neat and trim like the songs themselves.

He must be really sick of this shitNear the end of the album are the 4 parts of the "Beautiful Machine" broken into two distinct tracks. The first half displays the power pop prowess of the first half of the album, anchored by Schnider's vocal that displays a grittiness that carries over into the second half. The indie grit hinted at under the pop sheen of the first half really blossoms into the full Elephant 6 effect in parts 3-4. The arrangement, recording, and odd instrumentation play out as pleasant reminder of the best work of Neutral Milk Hotel, who's Jeff Magnum also surfaces on this album.

There are also plenty of quirky gimmicks through out the album. Little synths pop up and out as little pieces of ear candy. Back up vocals are run through a variety of modulation effects that recall ELO more than the Beatles directly. And there is a reoccurring use of vocoded vocals (think every Daft Punk song ever) that is pleasant enough. The only gimmick that really doesn't add to the overall effect of the album are the short sonic interludes that account for about half of the album's 24 tracks. I often love the use of short interludes, but they need to guide you from one song to the next or at least echo a consistent musical or sonic motif (a la' Badly Drawn Boy's brilliant Hour of the Bewilderbeast or About a Boy).

Still, it's hard to say that the interludes, which only account for a few minutes of the overall 53 really diminish the album as a whole. If you really don't like them, hit fast forward or edit them out of the playlist,2 but don't sleep on this album.

Rating: 4/5


1They still make those right?
2You've been effing with album order since you got your first dual cassette deck, so don't act like you don't do this.

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Blogger Mick said...

You put your weed in there

8:31 AM  
Blogger SeƱor Garo said...

Yes, I have been effing with album order since my first dual cassette deck. The local college station out my way (which rules the world) has the Apples in Stereo disc as it's 'pick of the month' ... Looks like I've gotta delve into this.

5:26 PM  

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